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Population Census 2005


Lao Info 4.1


NHDR 2006




Chapter 2: Population distribution and migration



People were enumerated in the geographical place in which they were present on the day of the census given that this place was their usual residence (usual defined as the person having lived there at least during the last six months). If that condition was not fulfilled the person was enumerated at the village maintaining his/her family book. For all persons enumerated it is possible to identify residence in village, district and province and whether the village is located in urban and rural areas.

The five criteria’s for urban villages:

  • The village must lie in the municipal vicinity where the district or provincial authority is located, there are more than 600 residents or more than 100 households
  • There is a road for motor vehicles to get access to the village
  • The majority of households in the village are electrified
  • There is a tap water supply in service to the majority of households
  • There is a market in the village

Rural areas were divided into two categories, those with access to road and those without access to road.

Four questions were the basis for migration information:

  • Where was (name) born (by district, province and foreign country codes)
  • Where was (name) living at last census in March 1995
  • How many persons (enumerated) had moved in to the household during the last twelve months prior to the census
  • How many persons have moved out from the household during the last twelve months prior to the census

The Lao Census 2005 thus collected three types of internal migration information.

  • Migration since birth with district as the lowest regional level (movements within districts are not registered),
  • Migration since last census March 1995 also with district as lowest regional level, and
  • Migration the last twelve months prior to the census

The first two pieces of information were identical with those of the 1995 census. Migration the last twelve months before the census was not asked in the 1995 census.

Population distribution is of particular important for planning purposes, especially when data is disaggregated by geographic subdivision such as provinces and districts.


2.1. Population Size and Distribution by Province


The results from the 2005 Census are distributed across 16 provinces, Phongsaly, Luangnamtha, Oudomxay, Bokeo, Luangprabang, Huaphanh, Xayaboury, Xiengkhuang, Vientiane Province, Borikhamxay, Khammuane, Savannakhet, Saravane, Sekong, Champasack, Attapeu, 1 Capital and Xaysomboon Special Region (SR). The provinces are the same as in the 1995 Census with the only difference that 2 districts, Longsan and Hom districts, were moved from Xaysomboon SR to Vientiane Province.

Data however are presented by urban villages, rural villages with access to road and rural villages without access to road. In practice, urban villages constitute the villages that form the principal towns in the provinces. Other villages are rural villages and road accessibility is based on whether there is a road that can be used in the rainy and dry seasons passing through.

Changes in the population at the provincial level depend on natural increase and net-migration, domestically and internationally. Savannakhet is the most populous province with a population of 826 000. While the country’s population has increased by 23 percent since 1995, some provinces like Borikhamxay, Vientiane C, Vientiane P. and surprisingly Sekong have population increases of more then 30 percent. Provinces such as Xaysomboon SR, Phongsaly, Luangprabang, Xiengkhuang, and Huaphanh have had slower population growth. For Xaysomboon SR the population is lower due to administrative changes (see table 2.1).

The reasons for these different developments are mainly due to internal migration (Figure 2.1. Population by Province ).


2.1.1 Urban/Rural Population


About 73 percent of population lives in rural areas. Since 1995 there has been a substantial movement from rural to urban areas across all provinces. In 1995, 83 percent of the population lived in rural areas. This trend to move to cities has been particularly strong in provinces such as Borikhamxay, Vientiane Capital, Xayaboury and Xiengkhuang, but slow in Oudomxay (no such movements), Luangnamtha, Huaphanh, Saravane, and Sekong. There is a positive correlation between high population increase and movements to cities, which suggests that internal migration plays an important role.

Vientiane Capital had the highest proportion in urban areas about 82 percent and Saravane the lowest, about 9 percent (see table 2.2).


2.1.2 Population Density


The population density of Lao PDR has increased from 15 persons per square kilometer in 1985 to 19 in 1995 and to 24 persons in 2005.

From table 2.3 it will be seen that the population density ranges from about 10 persons in Xaysomboon SR, Attapeu, Sekong and Phongsaly to 178 persons per square kilometer in Vientiane Capital.


2.2. Internal and External Migration


Questions concerning internal migration provide information on lifetime (place of birth) migration and intercensal migration. Lifetime and intercensal migration are crude measures of internal migration, since neither the timing nor the possibility of intermediate moves are considered. Also, persons who have moved within districts have not been recorded. Lifetime and intercensal migration can be recorded as movements between districts and provinces (internal migration) and as external migration if people have moved in (back) from other countries. Persons who have emigrated during the intercensal period have not been enumerated. Net-migration has been estimated by means of population projections.


2.3. Life-time Internal Migration


The majority of the population (82 percent) was enumerated in the same district as they were born in (table 2.4). The lifetime migration was of the same size as in 1995. For people living in Vientiane Capital 41 percent were not born in the same districts as they now live in. Low lifetime migration was recorded for people living in Phongsaly, Huaphanh, Saravane and Savannakhet.


2.4. Intercensal Internal Migration


For those born prior to 1995, i.e., the population aged 10 years and over, almost 92 percent were enumerated in the same district as in 1995. This figure was actually higher than in 1995 when 86 percent were enumerated in the same district as in 1985.

Data about intercensal migration is shown in Table 2.5. In Vientiane Capital and Xaysomboon SR, 81 percent of the population in 2005 were enumerated in the same district as 10 years ago. The lowest movements for people in Huaphanh, Xayaboury, Khammuane, Savannakhet, Saravane, Champasack and Attapeu. Although migration appears placid it still involves that about 350 000 people have moved since 1995 and of those about 185 000 have actually moved to another province.(Figure 2.2. Intercensal Provincial Net-migration 1995-2005 ).

Figure 2.2 shows net intercensal migration between provinces since 1995. It shows that Vientiane Capital has taken the overwhelming part of the migration. Positive flows are also recorded for Borikhamxay, Vientiane P., Bokeo, Luangnamtha and Sekong. The majority of the provinces have experienced negative net-migration particularly the northern provinces Huaphanh, Luangprabang, Xiengkhuang, Phongsaly, Savannakhet and Champasack.

Between the two censuses 72 800 people moved to Vientiane Capital; about 54 percent from the Northern provinces, 29 percent from Central Laos and 17 percent from the South. From the Vientiane Capital 14 500 moved mostly to the central and southern parts of the country.

In total, just under 200 000 persons have moved to another province since the 1995 census, of which 97 000 were men and 84 000 women. Younger age groups dominate for both sexes. Very few persons at ages 65+ move across provincial borders.


2.5. Intercensal External Migration


About 7 000 persons enumerated in the 2005 census were staying in foreign countries at the time of the 1995 census. The majority (about 75 percent) were Lao citizens who had moved back to Laos during the intercensal period. The Vietnamese constituted the other main group (about 16 percent).

External net-migration for the intercensal period has been estimated using the censuses taken in 1995 and 2005 as well as current estimates of fertility and mortality. (See chapter 6 and 7 for details). The estimated net-migration should be seen as somewhat approximate -15 000 net-migrants per year during the intercensal period. Net-migration for males and females is of the same magnitude, about 7 500 persons per year. The age distribution of net-migrants, also estimated, reflects the assumption that these persons predominantly are at working ages (labor force migration). The actual age distribution of net-migrants cannot, however, be accurately estimated from the censuses. ( Figure 2.3. Age Distribution of Net-Migration for both Sexes )


2.6. Internal Migration during 12 Months Prior to the Census


Contrary to the 1995 census, the 2005 census has also captured the migration within the country and abroad during the past 12 months. About 53 600 people had migrated which is a lot more than the average annual intercensal migration 1995–2005. About 60 percent had moved within the same province, and about 40 percent of all movements to a province from another, 40 percent had gone to Vientiane Capital.

Figure 2.4 shows gross flows (from and to a province) while Figure 2.5 illustrates provincial net flows. Vientiane Capital received the main bulk of migration. Of the other provinces only Sekong and Xaysomboon had positive net-migration. Huaphanh, Xiengkhuang and Luangprabang experienced the largest net-outflow.


2.7. Internal Migration during 12 Months Prior to the Census


Migration during the last twelve months preceding the census also involves migration to and from foreign countries. The number of people moving to Laos from abroad was small (about 500) while those moving to foreign countries numbered roughly 8 500. Hence, negative net-migration took place. The main bulk of emigrants came from the southern provinces such as Champasack, Savannakhet and Saravane and to a lesser extent from the central provinces while the Northern provinces had few emigrants. Almost 80 percent of the emigrants come from rural areas. (Figure 2.6. Immigration and Emigration during the last 12 Months Prior to the 2005 Census ).




  1. Population Size and structure
  2. Population Distribution and Migration
  3. Household Characteristics
  4. Education and Literacy
  5. Activity and Labor Force
  6. Fertility
  7. Mortality
  8. Housing Characteristics
  9. Population Projections



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